Kentucky, Mark Stoops agree to contract extension through 2028

Matt Stone/Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has agreed to a contract extension that will keep him with the No. 25 Wildcats through June 2028.

Stoops’ deal is being finalized, but will continue to include guaranteed extensions of one year for a seven-win season and two years for a 10-win finish. A release stated Stoops earned a one-year extension through 2027 with Kentucky’s current 9-3 record.

Stoops said in the release that he and athletic director Mitch Barnhart came to an agreement “a week or two ago.”

“I’m excited to continue to build this program to national prominence,” Stoops said in the release. “We’re on our way and I’m more confident in Kentucky football than I’ve ever been.”

Stoops is 58-53 in nine seasons with the Wildcats and has earned a sixth consecutive postseason appearance. His name had surfaced in recent days amid speculation about openings at LSU – which hired Brian Kelly from Notre Dame – and Oklahoma, where his brother, Bob, coached. Florida had also been mentioned as a possibility before it hired Billy Napier.

Instead, Stoops is staying in Lexington and Barnhart said he is “excited” about the commitment.

“Coach Stoops has done an outstanding job in building the UK football program and we look forward to continued success under his leadership,” the AD added.

No. 1 Georgia romps into playoff with 50-30 SEC win vs LSU

Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK
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ATLANTA – Georgia swatted away the field goal attempt, the ball spinning to a stop at its 4-yard line. The LSU players trudged off the field, thinking the play was over.

Christopher Smith knew better. He suddenly scooped it up and took off the other way, sprinting 96 yards for a touchdown that epitomized the Bulldogs program.

They were a step ahead of LSU on Saturday.

They’ve been a step ahead of everyone for two years now.

With all sorts of turmoil behind them in the rankings, Georgia headed to the College Football Playoff as the clear No. 1, dismantling the No. 11 Tigers 50-30 in the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday.

Stetson Bennett‘s threw a season-high four touchdown passes in another stellar postseason performance, while Smith’s heads-up play gave the Bulldogs an early spark.

“I’ve got good players around me. I’m not that bad at football, either,” Bennett said with a smile. “We’ve got a good team.”

Georgia (13-0, No. 1 CFP) also caught a big break when Smith deflected a pass that bounced off an LSU receiver’s helmet and wound up being picked off by the Bulldogs, setting up a score that contributed to a 35-10 lead by halftime.

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels re-injured a sore right ankle late in the second quarter, giving way to Garrett Nussmeier in the second half.

The backup guiding the Tigers (9-4, No. 14 CFP) to three second-half touchdowns, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Georgia accomplished something that not even last season’s national championship squad could could do – win its first SEC title since 2017. The Bulldogs were denied in this game a year ago by Alabama, before bouncing back to beat the Crimson Tide in the title game.

“I don’t want one kid to walk out of our program without an SEC championship ring in their careers,” coach Kirby Smart said. “That could’ve happened. They said enough is enough and got ’em one tonight.”

Georgia heads into the playoff assured of a return trip to Atlanta for a de facto semifinal home game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, just 75 miles from its Athens campus.

LSU’s outside hopes of crashing the four-team playoff field were wiped out a week ago by a stunning loss at Texas A&M, one of several upsets that will give the selection committee plenty to think about before its announcement Sunday.

Tennessee and Clemson also ruined their playoff hopes with losses late in the regular season, while No. 4 Southern California is presumably out after getting blown out by Utah in the Pac-12 title game Friday night.

Just as the SEC game was kicking off, No. 3 TCU lost to Kansas State in overtime for the Big 12 championship, further clouding a playoff picture that suddenly looks much more favorable for No. 5 Ohio State and No. 6 Alabama.

No matter who makes the elite field, Georgia is firmly focused on becoming the first repeat national title since Alabama in 2011-12, having won all but one game this season by double-digit margins.

“I’ve tried not to play attention to any of it,” Smart said of all the chaos. “It didn’t matter to me. That’s so far away.”

The Bulldogs showed they are more than just a bunch of talented athletes – this is a smart, well-coached group.

When Nazir Stackhouse burst through the middle of the line to block LSU’s 32-yard field goal attempt late in the first quarter, Smith knew what to do.

“That’s a scenario we go over a lot in practice,” he said.

He looked toward the sideline to see if it was OK to grab it.

“You’re not allowed to pick it up unless you can score with it,” Smart said.

Smith took care of the rest.

LSU coach Brian Kelly blamed himself and his staff for allowing the play to happen.

“Obviously, we did a poor job if coaching,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to have our guys alert in that situation. They were not alert.”

LSU quickly tied it up on Daniels’ 53-yard touchdown pass to Kayshon Boutte, only to have Bennett take control from there.

The sixth-year senior, a former walk-on who was offensive MVP of both Georgia playoffs wins a year ago, struck for four TD passes in a less than 15-minute span: 3 yards to Brock Bowers, 22 yards to Ladd McConkey, 14 yards to Darnell Washington and 3 yards to Dillon Bell.

Just like that, Georgia led 35-7.

“I was in a zone,” Bennett said.

It’s been that way for two years now.

THE TAKEAWAY

LSU: Kelly’s debut season turned a bit ugly the last two weeks, but the Tigers are on the right track. “We want to get back here next year. That’s our goal,” Kelly said. “Get back here and win it.”

Georgia: Win or lose in the SEC title game, the Bulldogs were assured of a spot in the playoff. But Smart continues to impress with his ability to keep the team motivated. While there were some huge defensive lapses in the second half, this game was never in doubt.

GOING FOR 2

When Georgia scored its final touchdown early in the fourth quarter for a 48-23 lead, Smart surprisingly called for a 2-point conversion.

The Bulldogs converted it with a trick play, but Smart insisted that he wasn’t trying to run up the score.

“The books says you go for 2 there,” he said.

When asked about the play, Kelly stumbled over his words a bit before finally saying, “I don’t get too caught up in what other teams are doing.”

INJURY REPORT

While Daniels went down for LSU, Georgia also lost a couple of players to injuries in the first half.

McConkey landed awkwardly making a catch along the sideline, inflaming a knee issue that’s been bothering him all year. Tight offensive tackle Warren McClendon sustained what appears to be a mild MCL sprain.

Neither returned after halftime.

UP NEXT

LSU: The Tigers get their postseason assignment Sunday, with the Citrus Bowl among the possibilities.

Georgia: The only question is who the Bulldogs will meet in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve, with TCU, Ohio State and SEC rival Alabama all in the mix.

Watson, Troy win Sun Belt title over Coastal Carolina, 45-26

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
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TROY, Ala. – Gunnar Watson and the streaking Troy Trojans came out with a flurry of big plays and a defense that was barely budging.

Watson passed for 318 yards and three long touchdowns to lead the Trojans to a 45-26 victory – their 10th straight – over Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Conference championship game on Saturday.

“It seemed like everything was going right for us,” Watson said.

The early domination didn’t last, but it was enough.

The Trojans (11-2) raced ahead 31-0 and with a 316-22 advantage in total yards en route to their Sun Belt-record seventh league title. Coach Jon Sumrall‘s first season began 1-2, with one loss on a Hail Mary pass, and ended with fans celebrating Troy’s first Sun Belt title since 2017 by storming the field and bringing down a goal post.

A group of students carried part of the goal post out of the stadium to the parking lot. It ended up in a nearby fountain.

“That probably will be one of the coolest memories I’ll ever have here,” Troy linebacker KJ Robertson said. “That was awesome for me. I don’t know how they’re paying for that.”

By the time three-time Sun Belt player of the year Grayson McCall got the offense going for Coastal Carolina (9-3), it was all but over. McCall started at quarterback after missing the past two games with a foot injury.

“They came out and really took it to us from the opening drive and we could not respond at all there in the first half,” said Chanticleers coach Jamey Chadwell. “I was proud of our team trying to come back in the second half. I thought we showed a lot of effort and fight.”

Watson completed 12 of 17 passes, including touchdowns of 67 yards and 36 yards to Rajae’ Johnson and a 65-yarder to Deshon Stoudemire. Watson was hit as he was throwing the 67-yarder with Johnson stretching out to grab it.

Johnson then snagged the ball one-handed to answer the Chanticleers’ second touchdown.

“I saw the replay and I was like, `Holy crap,”‘ Watson said.

DK Billingsley ran for three touchdowns, including a 33-yarder, for the Trojans.

Troy, which was coming off three straight five-win seasons, hasn’t lost since that Appalachian State Hail Mary on Sept. 17. Sumrall & Co. left the field in a much better mood this time.

“That was as good of a feeling as I’ve ever had after a game,” he said. “These kids have worked so hard and they’ve done so much and they’ve been through a lot.”

McCall overcame a rough start to complete 29 of 41 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns with a late interception. He also ran for an 8-yard touchdown.

McCall led touchdown drives heading into and coming out of halftime. He said his status was a gametime decision.

“I felt good in warmups so I told coach I was good to go,” McCall said.

The momentum didn’t last.

T.J. Jackson then had a strip sack and fumble recovery inside Coastal Carolina’s 10 to set up a touchdown.

The stats evened out but the score never got too uncomfortable for Troy. Coastal Carolina actually ended with a 432-411 edge in total yards.

Coastal Carolina has lost two straight lopsided games, including a 47-7 defeat to James Madison amid speculation about Chadwell’s future. He said he has spoken to Liberty about replacing coach Hugh Freeze but “I have not signed anything with them or anything of that nature.”

TAKEAWAY

Coastal Carolina: McCall and the offense took too long to get going for the Chanticleers to have a chance, but the defense struggled to bring down both Troy’s running backs and receivers in the first half. Still, the Chanticleers have won 31 games over the last three seasons.

Troy: Might have earned its second Top 25 ranking and first since 2016. The Trojans have their longest win streak since winning 11 in a row in 1995. Their six Sun Belt titles had been tied with Arkansas State.

SLOW DRIVE

The fumble recovery set up a drive that didn’t go far but took nearly four minutes. Troy finally scored after the eight-play, 7-yard drive was kept alive by a personal foul on a field goal.

UP NEXT

Both teams await their bowl destinations.